Chapter no 58: Names for Beginning

The Name of the Wind

IT WOULD BE NICE to say that our eyes met and I moved smoothly to her side. It would be nice to say that I smiled and spoke of pleasant things in carefully metered rhyming couplets, like Prince Gallant from some faerie story.

Unfortunately, life is seldom so carefully scripted. In truth, I simply stood.

It was Denna, the young woman I had met in Roent’s caravan so long ago.

Come to think of it, it had only been half a year. Not so long when you’re listening to a story, but half a year is a great long while to live through, especially if you are young. And we were both of us very young.

I caught sight of Denna as she was climbing the final step onto the third level of the Eolian. Her eyes were downcast, her expression thoughtful, almost sad. She turned and began to walk in my direction without lifting her eyes from the floor, without seeing me.

The months had changed her. Where before she had been pretty, now she was lovely as well. Perhaps that difference was only that she wasn’t wearing the road clothes I had met her in, but a long dress instead. But it was Denna without a doubt. I even recognized the ring on her finger, silver set with a pale blue stone.

Since we parted ways, I had kept foolish, fond thoughts of Denna hidden in a secret corner of my heart. I had thought of making the trip to Anilin and tracking her down, of meeting her by chance on the road again, of her coming to find me at the University. But deep down I knew these thoughts for nothing more than childish daydreams. I knew the truth: I would never see her again.

But here she was, and I was entirely unprepared. Would she even remember me, the awkward boy she had known for a few days so long ago?

Denna was barely a dozen feet away when she looked up and saw me. Her expression brightened, as if someone had lit a candle inside her and she was glowing from its light. She rushed toward me, closing the distance between us in three excited, skipping steps.

For a moment, she looked as if she would run straight into my arms, but at the last moment she pulled back, darting a glance at the people sitting around us. In the space of half a step, she transformed her delighted headlong

run into a demure greeting at arm’s length. It was gracefully done, but even so, she had to reach out a hand and steady herself against my chest, lest she stumble into me due to her sudden stop.

She smiled at me then. It was warm and sweet and shy, like a flower unfurling. It was friendly and honest and slightly embarrassed. When she smiled at me, I felt…

I honestly cannot think of how I could describe it. Lying would be easier. I could steal from a hundred stories and tell you a lie so familiar you would swallow it whole. I could say my knees went to rubber. That my breath came hard in my chest. But that would not be the truth. My heart did not pound or stop or stutter. That is the sort of thing they say happens in stories. Foolishness. Hyperbole. Tripe. But still…

Go out in the early days of winter, after the first cold snap of the season. Find a pool of water with a sheet of ice across the top, still fresh and new and clear as glass. Near the shore the ice will hold you. Slide out farther. Farther. Eventually you’ll find the place where the surface just barely bears your weight. There you will feel what I felt. The ice splinters under your feet. Look down and you can see the white cracks darting through the ice like mad, elaborate spiderwebs. It is perfectly silent, but you can feel the sudden sharp vibrations through the bottoms of your feet.

That is what happened when Denna smiled at me. I don’t mean to imply I felt as if I stood on brittle ice about to give way beneath me. No. I felt like the ice itself, suddenly shattered, with cracks spiraling out from where she had touched my chest. The only reason I held together was because my thousand pieces were all leaning together. If I moved, I feared I would fall apart.

Perhaps it is enough to say that I was caught by a smile. And though that sounds as if it came from a storybook, it is very near the truth.

Words have never been difficult for me. Quite the opposite in fact—often I find it all too easy to speak my mind, and things go badly because of it. However, here in front of Denna, I was too stunned to speak. I could not have said a sensible word to save my life.

Without thinking, all the courtly manners my mother had drilled into me came to the fore. I reached out smoothly and clasped Denna’s outstretched hand in my own, as if she’d offered it to me. Then I took a half step backward and made a genteel three-quarter bow. At the same time my free hand caught hold of the edge of my cloak and tucked it behind my back. It was a flattering bow, courtly without being ridiculouly formal, and safe for a public setting such as this.

What next? A kiss on the hand was traditional, but what sort of kiss was appropriate? In Atur you merely nod over the hand. Cealdish ladies like the moneylender’s daughter I had chatted with earlier expected you to brush the knuckles lightly and make a kissing sound. In Modeg you actually press your

lips to the back of your own thumb.

But we were in Commonwealth, and Denna showed no foreign accent. A straightforward kiss then. I pressed my lips gently to the back of her hand for the space of time it takes to draw a quick breath. Her skin was warm and smelled vaguely of heather.

“I am at your service, my lady,” I said, standing and releasing her hand. For the first time in my life I understood the true purpose of this sort of formal greeting. It gives you a script to follow when you have absolutely no idea what to say.

“My lady?” Denna echoed, sounding a little surprised. “Very well, if you insist.” She took hold of her dress with one hand and bobbed a curtsey, somehow managing to make it look graceful and mocking and playful all at once. “Your lady.” Hearing her voice, I knew my suspicions were true. She was my Aloine.

“What are you doing up here in the third circle alone?” She glanced around the crescent-shaped balcony. “Are you alone?”

“I was alone,” I said. Then when I could think of nothing else to say, I borrowed a line from the song fresh in my memory. “‘Now unexpected Aloine beside me stands.’”

She smiled at that, flattered. “How do you mean, unexpected?” she asked. “I had more than half convinced myself that you had already left.”

“It was a near thing,” Denna said, archly. “Two hours I waited for my Savien to come.” She sighed tragically, glancing up and to one side like a statue of a saint. “Finally, filled with despair, I decided Aloine could do the finding this time, and damn the story.” She smiled a wicked smile.

“‘So we were ill-lit ships at night…’” I quoted.

“…‘passing close but all unknown to one another,’” Denna finished. “Felward’s Falling,” I said with something that touched the outward

boundary of respect. “Not many people know that play.” “I am not many people,” she said.

“I will never forget that again,” I bowed my head with exaggerated deference. She snorted derisively. I ignored it and continued in a more serious tone. “I can’t thank you enough for helping me tonight.”

“You can’t?” she said. “Well that’s a shame. How much can you thank me?”

Without thinking, I reached up to the collar of my cloak and unpinned my talent pipes. “Only this much,” I said, holding them out to her.

“I…” Denna hesitated, somewhat taken aback. “You can’t be serious..” “Without you, I wouldn’t have won them,” I said. “And I have nothing

else of any value, unless you want my lute.”

Denna’s dark eyes studied my face, as if she couldn’t decide if I was making fun or not. “I don’t think you can give away your pipes….”

“I can, actually,” I said. “Stanchion mentioned if I lost them or gave them away, I’d have to earn another set.” I took her hand, uncurled her fingers, then laid the silver pipes on her palm. “That means I can do with them as I please, and it pleases me to give them to you.”

Denna stared at the pipes in her hand, then looked at me with deliberate attention, as if she hadn’t entirely noticed me before. For a moment I was painfully aware of my appearance. My cloak was threadbare, and even wearing my best clothes I was a short step from shabby.

She looked down again and slowly closed her hand around the pipes. Then she looked up at me, her expression unreadable. “I think you might be a wonderful person,” she said.

I drew a breath, but Denna spoke first. “However,” she said, “this is too great a thanks. More payment than is appropriate for any help I’ve given you. I would end up in your debt.” She caught hold of my hand and pressed the pipes back into it. “I would rather have you beholden to me.” She grinned suddenly. “This way you still owe me a favor.”

The room grew noticeably quieter. I looked around, confused due to the fact that I’d forgotten where I was. Denna lay a finger to her lips and pointed over the railing to the stage below. We stepped closer to the edge and looked down to see an old man with a white beard opening an oddly-shaped instrument case. I sucked in a surprised breath when I saw what he was holding.

“What is that thing?” Denna asked.

“It’s an old court lute,” I said, unable to keep the amazement out of my voice. “I’ve never actually seen one before.”

“That’s a lute?” Denna’s lips moved silently. “I count twenty-four strings.

How does that even work? That’s more than some harps.”

“That’s how they made them years ago, before metal strings, before they knew how to brace a long neck. It’s incredible. There’s more careful engineering in that swan neck than in any three cathedrals.” I watched as the old man tucked his beard out of the way and adjusted himself in his seat. “I just hope he tuned it before he went onstage,” I added softly. “Otherwise we’ll be waiting an hour while he fiddles with his pegs. My father used to say the old minstrels used to spend two days stringing and two hours of tuning to get two minute’s music from an old court lute.”

It only took the old man about five minutes to get the strings in agreement. Then he began to play.

I am shamed to admit it, but I remember nothing of the song. Despite the fact that I had never seen a court lute, let alone heard one, my mind was too awhirl with thoughts of Denna to absorb much else. As we leaned on the railing side by side, I snuck glances of her out of the corner of my eye.

She hadn’t called me by name, or mentioned our meeting before in

Roent’s caravan. That meant she didn’t remember me. Not too surprising, I suppose, that she would forget a ragged boy she’d only known for a few days on the road. Still, it stung a bit, as I’d had fond thoughts of her for months. Still, there was no way to bring it up now without seeming foolish. Better to make a fresh start and hope I was more memorable the second time around.

The song was over before I realized it, and I clapped enthusiastically to make up for my inattention.

“I thought you’d made a mistake when you doubled your chorus earlier,” Denna said to me as the applause died down. “I couldn’t believe you really wanted a stranger to join in. I haven’t seen that done anywhere except around campfires at night.”

I shrugged. “Everyone kept telling me this is where the best musicians played.” I made a sweeping gesture with one hand toward her. “I trusted someone would know the part.”

She arched an eyebrow. “It was a near thing,” she said. “I waited for someone else to jump in instead. I was a little anxious to step in myself.”

I gave her a puzzled look. “Why? You have a lovely voice.”

She gave a sheepish grimace. “I’d only heard the song twice before this. I wasn’t sure if I’d remember all of it.”


Denna nodded. “And the second time was just a span ago. A couple played it during a formal dinner I attended off in Aetnia.”

“Are you serious?” I said incredulously.

She tilted her head back and forth, as if caught in a white lie. Her dark hair fell across her face and she brushed it away absentmindedly. “Okay, I suppose I did hear the couple rehearse a little right before the dinner….”

I shook my head, hardly believing it. “That’s amazing. It’s a terribly difficult harmony. And to remember all the lyrics….” I marveled silently for a moment, shaking my head. “You have an incredible ear.”

“You’re not the first man to say that,” Denna said, wryly. “But you might be the first to say it while actually looking at my ears,” she glanced down meaningfully.

I felt myself beginning to blush furiously when I heard a familiar voice behind us. “There you are!” Turning, I saw Sovoy, my tall, handsome friend and coconspirator from Advanced Sympathy.

“Here I am,” I said, surprised that he would seek me out. Doubly surprised that he would have the bad grace to interrupt me when I was in a private conversation with a young woman.

“Here we all are.” Sovoy smiled at me as he walked over and put his arm casually around Denna’s waist. He made a mock frown at her. “I scour the bottom levels trying to help you find your singer, while all the while both of you are up here, thick as thieves.”

“We stumbled into each other,” Denna said, laying her hand over his where it rested on her hip. “I knew you’d come back for your drink, if nothing else…” She nodded to a nearby table, empty except for a pair of wine-glasses. Together, they turned and walked arm in arm back to their table. Denna looked over her shoulder at me and gave a sort of a shrug with her eyebrows.

I hadn’t the slightest idea what the expression meant.

Sovoy waved me over to join them and pulled over an unoccupied chair so I would have a place to sit. “I couldn’t quite believe it was you down there,” he said to me. “I thought I recognized your voice, but…” He gestured, indicating the highest level of the Eolian. “While the third circle provides a comfortable privacy for young lovers, its view of the stage leaves a little to be desired. I didn’t know you played.” He settled a long arm across Denna’s shoulders and smiled his charming blue-eyed smile.

“Off and on,” I said flippantly as I sat down.

“Lucky for you I picked the Eolian for our entertainment tonight,” Sovoy said. “Otherwise you’d have had nothing but echoes and crickets to accompany you.”

“Then I’m in your debt,” I said to him, with a deferential nod.

“Make it up to me by taking Simmon as a partner next time we play corners,” he said. “That way you’re the one to eat the forfeit when the giddy little bastard calls the tall card with nothing but a pair.”

“Done,” I said. “Though it pains me.” I turned to Denna. “What of you? I owe you a great favor—how can I repay it? Ask anything and it is yours, should it be within my skill.”

“Anything within your skill,” she repeated playfully. “What can you do then, besides play so well that Tehlu and his angels would weep to hear?”

“I imagine I could do anything,” I said easily. “If you would ask it of me.” She laughed.

“That’s a dangerous thing to say to a woman,” Sovoy said. “Especially this one. She’ll have you off to bring her a leaf of the singing tree from the other side of the world.”

She leaned back in her chair and looked at me with dangerous eyes. “A leaf of the singing tree,” she mused. “That might be a nice thing to have. Would you bring me one?”

“I would,” I said, and was surprised to find that it was the truth.

She seemed to consider it, then shook her head playfully. “I couldn’t send you journeying so far away. I’ll have to save my favor for another day.”

I sighed. “So I am left in your debt.”

“Oh no!” she exclaimed. “Another weight upon my Savien’s heart….” “The reason my heart is so heavy is that I fear I might never know your

name. I could keep thinking of you as Felurian,” I said. “But that could lead to unfortunate confusion.”

She gave me an appraising look. “Felurian? I might like that if I didn’t think you were a liar.”

“A liar?” I said indignantly. “My first thought in seeing you was ‘Felurian! What have I done? The adulation of my peers below has been a waste of hours. Could I recall the moments I have careless cast away, I could but hope to spend them in a wiser way, and warm myself in light that rivals light of day.’”

She smiled. “A thief and a liar. You stole that from the third act of


She knew Daeonica too? “Guilty,” I admitted freely. “But that doesn’t make it untrue.”

She smiled at Sovoy then turned back to me. “Flattery is fine and good, but it won’t win you my name. Sovoy mentioned you were keeping pace with him in the University. That means you meddle with dark forces better left alone. If I give you my name you would have a terrible power over me.” Her mouth was serious, but her smile showed itself around the corners of her eyes, in the tilt of her head.

“That is very true,” I said with equal seriousness. “But I will make you a bargain. I’ll give you my name in exchange. Then I will be in your power as well.”

“You’d sell me my own shirt,” she said. “Sovoy knows your name. Assuming he hasn’t told me already, I could have it from him as easy as breathing.”

“True enough,” Sovoy said, seeming relieved that we remembered he was there. He took up her hand and kissed the back of it.

“He can tell you my name,” I said, dismissively. “But he cannot give it to you—only I can do that.” I lay one hand flat on the table. “My offer stands, my name for yours. Will you take it? Or will I be forced to think of you always as an Aloine, and never as yourself?”

Her eyes danced. “Very well,” she said. “I’ll have yours first though.”

I leaned forward, and motioned for her to do the same. She let go of Sovoy’s hand and turned an ear toward me. With due solemnity I whispered my name in her ear. “Kvothe.” She smelled faintly of flowers, which I guessed was a perfume, but beneath that was her own smell, like green grass, like the open road after a light spring rain.

Then she leaned back into her seat and seemed to think of it for a while. “Kvothe,” she said eventually. “It suits you. Kvothe.” Her eyes sparkled as if she held some hidden secret. She said it slowly, as if tasting it, then nodded to herself. “What does it mean?”

“It means many things,” I said in my best Taborlin the Great voice. “But you will not distract me so easily. I have paid, and now am in your power. Would you give me your name, that I might call you by it?”

She smiled and leaned forward again, I did likewise. Turning my head to the side, I felt an errant strand of her hair brush against me. “Dianne,” her warm breath was like a feather against my ear. “Dianne.”

We both sat back in our seats. When I didn’t say anything she prompted me, “Well?”

“I have it,” I assured her. “As sure as I know my own.” “Say it then.”

“I am saving it,” I reassured her, smiling. “Gifts like these should not be squandered.”

She looked at me.

I relented. “Dianne,” I said. “Dianne. It suits you as well.”

We looked at each other for a long moment, then I noticed that Sovoy was giving me a not-quite-subtle stare.

“I should get back downstairs,” I said, rising quickly from my seat. “I’ve got important people to meet.” I cringed inwardly at the awkwardness of the words as soon as I’d said them, but couldn’t think of a less awkward way to take them back.

Sovoy stood and shook my hand, no doubt eager to be rid of me. “Well done tonight, Kvothe. I’ll be seeing you.”

I turned to see Denna standing too. She met my eyes and smiled. “I hope to see you too.” She held out her hand.

I gave her my best smile. “There’s always hope.” I meant it to seem witty, but the words seemed to turn boorish as soon as they left my mouth. I had to leave before I made an even greater ass of myself. I shook her hand quickly. It was slightly cool to the touch. Soft, delicate, and strong. I did not kiss it, as Sovoy was my friend, and that is not the sort of thing friends do.

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